I have often thought it grossly unfair that a video game soundtrack is linked, for better and for worse, with the popularity of the game in which it appears. Sure, music is a crucial part of the experience and in many ways emblematic of it, but only recognizing an OST because the game has hit it big is a burr in my saddle.
Let me put it plainly: There are terrific MMOs with terrific soundtracks. There are great MMOs with subpar soundtracks. There are plenty of terrible MMOs with what I can only assume is a serial killer’s recording of chalkboard scrapings for a score. And — in light of today’s topic — there are quite a few incredibly good soundtracks that came from MMOs that are somewhat forgettable.
Maybe these games are far past their prime or only really took root in a certain region, but I keep coming across titles that have surprisingly robust soundtracks that get (pardon Rodney Dangerfield) no respect, no respect at all. Today I want to share with you six scores I’ve unearthed from games that have been all but forgotten by the modern MMO community.
Yeah, just about nobody remembers Motor City Online these days. It was a racing MMO made by Electronic Arts that had a rather short run from 2001 to 2003 (reportedly canceled so EA could focus on The Sims Online… good decision, there).
In my quest to unearth MMO soundtracks, I didn’t even think of MCO until relatively recently when a friend suggested I check it out. I did and found myself amused and entertained by this high-energy rockabilly score. Yes, I could totally picture myself racing down the highway to these tunes.
I know so little about either of the Ragnarok titles, other than that they exist and they are not quite the Viking action MMOs that I expected from the name. What I do know is that the second game’s soundtrack absolutely dominates the first, and in fact it is quite a bit better than many MMO OSTs I’ve heard.
This is thanks to the skilled composition of Yoko Kanno, a Japanese musician who rocks across several spheres. She brings so much good music to this title that it feels like a crime that one game is hoarding it all. Seriously, it’s awesome and deserves to be heard by all.
3. Granado Espada (Sword of the New World)
On Battle Bards we have this long-running joke about how the Granado Espada soundtrack contains every musical genre known to humanity. While this is not technically true, one certainly does get this impression by listening through this wildly eclectic soundtrack. Opera, techno, fantasy orchestra, ’70s funk… it’s all there and then some. And the kicker is that quite a bit of it is good, even if it’s all over the place.
WildStar’s critically and popularly acclaimed soundtrack has certainly sent a lot of praise the way of Composer Jeff Kurtenacker (and rightly so). It’s certainly one of the best MMO soundtracks ever… yet it’s not Kurtenacker’s first.
Years before, Kurtenacker teamed up with Adam Gubman to work on the swashbuckling score to Pirates of the Burning Sea. And if you like WildStar’s stuff, then boy howdy, you owe it to yourself to check out this score. It’s strong stuff that’s enhanced by factional themes and stirring set pieces. An underrated classic.
5. Spiral Knights
No, I’d barely given Spiral Knights a second thought either since its launch, but I did find myself picking up both (!) volumes of the Harry Mack’s (Braid) soundtrack a while back. Really, really glad I did, too, because this OST has a peppy old-school video game feel that mixes synth and what I’m assuming is synthetic orchestra to create earworm tracks that I’m still humming years later.
Oh, my poor Dungeon Runners (2007-2010). I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for this game ever since playing it back in the day and laughing at the silly satire that this Diablo clone slung at the MMORPG genre. It had a catchy little soundtrack, too, composed by Tracy W. Bush (World of Warcraft). Really different, bizarre, and even exotic at times, this score is a living testament to what Dungeon Runners once was.